Tag Archives: family life

My Couponing Experiment: Week One

Today was the official “kickoff” of my couponing experiment.  Here’s a look at the receipt from today’s trip (coupons & utilizing the store’s weekly sale ad) compared to last week (pre-couponing):

How much money can you realistically save on groceries using coupons?

Our total bill was $11 higher this week for roughly the same amount of items.  However, according to the store, we saved $30 through our efforts, while last week we only saved a paltry $4 (makes sense because we weren’t trying!)

If we supposedly saved so much money this week, then how come our total cost was greater?  A couple reasons this might have happened:  (1) we had company over for dinner this evening and served salmon with jumbo shrimp– those ingredients alone were almost $40; (2) we got two trays of sushi for $14 (not something we usually do but today was unbelievably busy and we didn’t have time to prepare our own lunch).  Otherwise, our cart was generally the same as always.

Some observations:

  • We were only able to use a few coupons because many of the items we buy are fresh produce and meat — these things don’t have manufacturers’ coupons.
  • The weekly store ad was the best way for us to save on produce and meat by steering towards things that were marked down. (Example: chicken thighs on sale vs. chicken breasts at regular price)
  • Coupons will come in handy for toiletries, kitchen goods, and cleaning supplies (trash bags, toothpaste, etc.) that are only bought on occasion.  I have quite a few stored in my “later” envelope for when it’s time to restock.

saving money grocery shopping by couponing

I feel good about our first week of active couponing and sale shopping.  Because of a couple big-ticket items, our bill appears slightly higher at first glance.  However, we actually saved $26 compared to last week.  I anticipate that our efforts will be reflected in the total cost next time since we don’t have any family meals or special purchases planned.

Check back next week for another update!

Why I Turned Down a Job to be a Stay at Home Mom

Why I Turned Down a Job Today

The original plan was never for me to be a stay at home mom.  When I quit my job in November, I intended to enjoy the holidays at home with my family and immediately begin looking for new employment after New Years.

Within days of resigning, I had an interview lined up already.  It seemed a very promising opportunity.  After a month-long interview process in which I was all but guaranteed the spot, there was a “miscommunication” and I was told they were going to “pass.”  Definitely a bummer, but perhaps a blessing in disguise– I might have ended up working for another shady company.

“Why don’t you just stay home with the kids?  You don’t need to go back to work– we’re doing fine.  It’s been so good for the girls.”  I couldn’t believe my husband was suggesting such an idea.  Work was all I knew.  It was part of my identity.  I’d been a part of the workforce since I was old enough to legally do so.  (Actually, I started much earlier as a groom at the stable where I took lessons in trade for attending horse shows.)

To be honest, it was such a relief to think my world would no longer revolve around someone else’s schedule (except two little girls!)  I had been so happy for the past month– apparently I had been more miserable than I realized at my last job.  It was as if a fog had been lifted and I was truly enjoying life.  I was reluctant to do anything which might jeopardize this newfound happiness.

So I stayed home and resolved to do all the things that had fell by the wayside while I was working full time.  I caught up with the laundry (for a day…then of course it was piled everywhere again, but hey I did it!)  I thoroughly cleaned and reorganized our exercise studio/game room.  I made sure the kitchen was spotless every night before I went to bed– waking up to an empty sink and sparkling counters is an amazing feeling– even I can hardly believe I just said that, but it’s true!  The girls and I took leisurely walks whenever the weather allowed.  Matt and I ran errands on his days off– just enjoying being together as a family.  I re-dedicated myself to my writing.  Work had sucked my energy to where I was literally just surviving every day.  Now I was actually living.

This went on for a few months and our family settled into a comfortable routine.  Then I got a call from a former work colleague.  She too had left the company I worked for last due to the negative environment.  Now she was asking if I would like to come meet the owner of the new spot she had gone to– they were looking for someone with my experience and she thought I would be a great fit.

Panic set in.  Things were going so well at home, was it worth it to rock the boat?  Annabelle still had a couple months before we could start weaning– I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting off the dreaded pump.  Would I still have time for my writing?  That was my “me” time– I looked forward to it every day.  Did I even want to go to work outside the home?  Was I lazy or selfish for even having these feelings?

“So don’t do it.”  Hubby said matter-of-factly.  “You don’t have to.”  He sees the world very black and white.  It’s easy for him to make decisions without getting emotional.  If only it were that easy for me! I decided to at least go in for a meeting and see exactly what the position entailed.  I was flattered that my friend had suggested me and felt I owed her that much.  I figured that it would be at least 40 hours plus some nights (as most event jobs are) and that I would simply be unable to meet those demands.  But at least I would have “tried” and given the opportunity a fair listen before politely declining.

Fast forward a few days and I’m sitting in front of one of Houston’s culinary greats.  He is an imposing physical presence, but at the same time very warm and easy to talk to.  “So what schedule would work for you?  Do you need to leave by 2?  Can you be here at 9?  Family is important to me, so I understand your situation.”  Well this was not what I expected.  Here he was asking me what would be my ideal schedule.  He was so willing to work with me that I wanted to take the job for that reason alone.

I had anticipated an easy out– a schedule to which I would be unable to commit.  Instead I had an offer on the table for a part time job with hours that were tailored to me.  The pay wasn’t great, but what part time job would be able to compete financially with the salary and commission I pulled before?  Plus I could probably learn a lot from someone so knowledgable in the industry.

Hubby was less than excited.  “It’s not that much money.  It’s not really worth it.”  At first I was frustrated– he wasn’t even listening to the positive aspects!  “If you really want to do it, we’ll make it work,” he assured me. “But I love having you home.  And what about your writing?  You won’t have as much time.”

He was trying to be supportive, but I could see that he did not want me to accept.  Could I blame him?  Sure, the part-time schedule worked great for me, but what about him?  As a night manager he often doesn’t even get home until 4am.  If I was leaving at 8am every morning, it meant he would get an absurdly little amount of sleep.  No one could function on 3-4 hours of rest every single day.  It really would be asking him to make a huge sacrifice– for what amounted to only a couple hundred extra bucks a week.

I agonized (probably more than I should have) over the decision for two days.  However, when I thought about what was best for our family as a whole, it is for me to be exactly where I am at the moment.  It still didn’t make it any easier for me to write a letter of regret turning down the job.  To accept that for the time being I am not the prime breadwinner.  To let go (at least temporarily) the part of me that sees myself as a working woman and embrace this new identity as a stay at home mom.

That is what I am right now, but that is not ALL that I am.  I am a writer.  I am a counselor to family and friends who come to me for career advice (I was there for over 15 years!)  I am a motivator to those that need a little extra encouragement to make a positive change in their lives or pursue a dream (leaving a fairly lucrative career to stay home and commit to my writing was a risk, but it is my dream).  I am the backbone of our family– keeping home and finances in order.  I am molding two little girls into strong and intelligent little ladies.

Typing it out and owning it is such an empowering feeling.  If writing is not your thing, I encourage you to say it out loud mamas!  Often when we make the choice to stay home, we often lose a little bit of ourselves and our identity as an independent woman.  But it is still there inside– your assets and gifts that you offer the world, whether it be from an office or your house.  Remember your strengths and your passions and know that you are still as important, if not more so now, than you were before!

I do feel truly blessed that I am able to have this time with my family and my girls, though it was not without sacrifice–read about the one lifestyle change that we made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom.

Music is sunshine

How Music Made Our Mornings FUN!

Lilu and I have always bonded over music.  Ever since she could talk, we have made time during every day to sing and dance to our “jams” (generally super-cheesy 80’s music.)

How to have cheerful children in the morning

Like any kid, she’s not always very enthusiastic about waking up for school..  One day last week as I was tucking her in to bed, I told her I was going to come in the next morning with music blaring to wake her up.  That way, I explained, she would have to be in a good mood.

7am rolls around and I forget.  Lilu didn’t.  She sat right up in bed: “where’s the music?”  I quickly retreated to my room to grab my phone.  When I came back to help her get dressed (she still lets me choose her outfits–I’ll enjoy it as long as possible) I was playing “Higher Love” (our official family song.)

Well wouldn’t you know, Lilu hopped right out of bed with a smile on her face, already suggesting which song to play next.  The rest of the morning was entirely pleasant as we ate breakfast together, heads bobbing to the tunes playing from my portable speaker.  Lilu was even ready for school ten minutes early.

Lilu is very big on traditions, so I believe we will be jamming out each morning from now on.  Adding music definitely improved everyone’s mood– myself included.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner, but I’m sure glad I found a way to make mornings a little bit easier!

fisher ridge pork barrel red wine

Soccer Mom Sommelier: Fisher Ridge Pork Barrel Red

Last night my Granny cooked a spaghetti dinner and asked mom and I if we could pick up a couple bottles of wine for the occasion.  Mom had the idea of a family tasting which I could write about in my Soccer Mom Sommelier series.  I always love suggestions and this had fun written all over it, so we headed out into the rain on a mission to bring back some goodies for the evening.

At the local drug store (with a surprisingly nice wine selection), I saw a shelf dedicated to West Virginia vintners.  Obviously, West Virginia is not known for wine– at all– but I thought it could be interesting to try a local blend.

There were a lot of strange offerings with descriptors like “sweet blackberry” and “spiced” that sounded more at home on a stack of pancakes than stemware.  Then I spotted a bottle of Fisher Ridge Pork Barrel Red, a table wine that claimed to be a “West Virginia Tradition.”  I was drawn to this one and had the feeling it was going to be just what I was hoping to find.

Bright was the word that came up most often during our tasting, whether to describe the beautiful cherry color or the bountiful fruit flavors.  I was excited just at the sight of this wine when I poured my first glass– a photo doesn’t quite capture the vivid red that was almost too pretty to drink…almost.  This blend was light and refreshing, yet stood up well to the bold spaghetti with meat sauce and sautéed chicken livers (ok, so no liver for me…)

I was dying to know what was in this bottle, but Fisher Ridge Winery has no website (yes, there is an address on the bottle, but it goes nowhere) and I could find very little information with an internet search.  I suppose it’s kind of fun to leave it a mystery.  An interesting tidbit I ran across in my research: the name “Pork Barrel Red” is a sort of salute to the late Senator Robert Byrd who was infamous for his “pork barrel” politics– winning massive amounts of government money for local projects.

support local wine

Disappointingly, Fisher Ridge Winery only sells within the state of West Virginia, so there will be no more Pork Belly Red for me until the next visit– bummer!  But I am so glad that I took the time to try this local wine, and it will be something for me to look forward to every time I come “home.”  It also gives me more motivation to explore Texas wines, and look for more obscure gems.  Next time you’re in the market for a new bottle to try, consider something you can’t find anywhere else– it’s always a plus to support local businesses, and you just might be in for a pleasant surprise!

healthy chocolate chip cookies

Healthy AND Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ever since we tried those Avocado Chocolate Cookies, Mateo has been determined to create his own “healthy” cookie recipe.  These chocolate chip cookies are his first attempt, and man are they delicious!  Even better, they are flourless, lactose-free, and have no added sugar (aside from the chocolate chips), so you can feel good about eating them.

Guilt-Free Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here’s what you will need (this makes a double batch, we got 20 cookies):

  • 10 dried dates
  • 2 cups almond butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 TB water
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 TB baking powder

Start by boiling the dates for a couple minutes, just to soften them.

boiled dates

Once soft, remove from heat, drain, and add to food processor.  Add 1/4 tsp sea salt and 2 TB water.  Chop until coarsely ground.

datesIMG_2867

Add 2 cups almond butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 eggs, and 1/2 TB baking powder.  Blend.

almond butter

Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.  It may take some muscle!

chocolate chipsIMG_2884IMG_2883

Form batter into balls less than 1/4 cup each in size.  Place on greased baking sheet.  Do not flatten.

IMG_2899chocolate chip cookies

Bake for 9 minutes at 350 degrees.  Place cookies on baking rack to cool.  Try not to eat the entire batch. 🙂

chocolate chip cookieschocolate chip cookies

spaghetti baby food

What is Annabelle Eating?

It seems that parents are always asking one another: “what is your baby eating?”  Perhaps it is because the whole baby food business is stressful, but it is a major and unavoidable part of a parent’s day.  There’s also the fear: what SHOULD they be eating? How much? What foods are dangerous? Are they getting enough vitamins? Iron?  Agghh!  It’s just food right?  Feeding should be FUN!  Well, I think we are FINALLY getting there…

Annabelle is now eating with us for two meals a day (she is usually asleep during breakfast early in the morning before big sis goes to school.)  We don’t make any dedicated “baby food” for her– due in part to the hassle and also to her outright refusal to eat bland purees.   She sees what the rest of the family is eating (yes, she is watching) and insists (loudly) that she get to enjoy the same.  She also likes to feed herself so there is usually a huge mess.  But she LOVES to eat so it’s impossible to be upset!

Besides WHAT she was eating, another stress for me was worrying whether or not she was getting enough vital nutrients.  Her pediatrician (very kind and good with the baby) is a little old school and still pushed cereals as the first food since they are fortified with iron (we started with fruits and veggies instead.)  At every visit he reminds us that breast milk does not contain enough vitamin D or iron after the first six months.  He recommended vitamin D drops as well (manufactured by a large formula company), but I had a real problem with the ingredient list.  Polysorbate 80, Artificial Caramel Coloring, Artificial Flavoring (so you have NO idea specifically what this is)– my adult vitamins don’t contain any of these things, so why should baby vitamins have so many additives?

I figured it would be better to do a little research on real foods that contain high amounts of these nutrients and feed these instead.  I’m not a total hippie mom– I say YES to vaccines and I use disposable diapers– but I DO think that it’s best to stay as close to nature wherever possible with regard to what we ingest.  After some reading, I found that most of the foods we eat as a family are nutrient-dense, so if Annabelle has these in addition to her breast milk (which is still the best thing I can provide her at this age), she should be good to go!

Here are some of her favorites, as well as what key vitamins and minerals they contain.  You might be surprised!

  • Salmon – Annabelle LOVES salmon!  In addition to protein, omegas, and good fats, salmon has a TON of vitamin D.  Awesome!
  • Beef – We just started feeding Annabelle ground beef (so it is easy to chew).  She went crazy over last night’s spaghetti and meatballs.  This is an amazing source of iron as well as protein.
  • Bananas – I cut a banana in half and let her go to town.  She loves to hold it in both hands and gnaw on it.  Vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber are just a few of the benefits. Bananas have a bad rap for causing constipation, but some research shows that they actually have the opposite effect.  I can attest that Annabelle eats them regularly and definitely does NOT get stopped up!
  • Broccoli – We have broccoli often in stir-fries and other dishes.  I’ll usually give her a floret that she can hold and bite off smaller pieces.  Broccoli is full of vitamins, and though it doesn’t contain much vitamin D on its own, it is said to help with vitamin D metabolization from other foods.
  • Chicken – Annabelle is obviously a carnivore– runs in the family!  She will eat it in all forms, from chicken salad (yes, with a little mayo) to Cuban mojo (citrus garlic roasted.)  Chicken is extremely high in protein, contains ALL B vitamins, and is a source of iron.
  • Mushrooms – Mushrooms are perfect to toss into a variety of dishes as they easily absorb flavor.     Mushrooms (the various types will differ in the exact amount) provide LOTS of vitamin D, B vitamins, antioxidants, AND iron.  Who knew?!
  • Sweet Red Bell Peppers – Yep, peppers!  They are like nature’s multivitamin, containing traceable amounts of over 15 vitamins and minerals.

Those are just some of the foods we eat on a regular basis.  Hopefully you got some new ideas!  Or, if you’ve already tried these, maybe now you know a little more about the great health benefits they offer.  If we come across any other hits, I’ll post again!  Happy eating!

*I want to note that I am obviously not a medical professional and my suggestions are just that: suggestions.  Always do your own research and talk to your pediatrician when trying new foods.

Cat Island Bahamas

Traveling with Baby: Buying Tickets

In the next two months I will be taking Annabelle on two plane flights.  The first, which I am calling our “practice run,” is a short, direct flight from Houston to West Virginia to visit relatives.  The only things that worry me at all about this trip are (1) it is her first trip EVER by car or plane longer than one hour, and (2) Daddy will not be with us to help carry luggage and hold the baby if she gets restless.  However, my mom traveled with three kids many times, so I’m sure between the two of us we will be fine.

The second trip, which DOES make me a little more nervous is to the Bahamas for my sister’s wedding.  The first leg of the trip is again a direct flight, from Houston to Nassau.  However, the wedding is not on the big island.  No, my sister selected a remote, private beach resort on tiny outlying Cat Island.  Absolutely stunning in photos, but requiring a second flight on a completely separate Bahamian airline.  From what I’ve been told, a 30-seat turbo-prop (eek!!!)

I made the decision for both trips to buy Annabelle her own seat so she can ride in her carseat.  Honestly, to me there really was no decision to make.  Even rough turbulence could toss a lap baby out of a parent’s arms, and a preventable injury was not worth saving a few hundred dollars.  I know this is a hot-button issue among parents, but this is my opinion.  We waited so long to have Annabelle and went through such heartache the year prior, that I could never forgive myself if anything happened because she was not properly restrained.  (Stepping off soapbox now.)

I’ve already booked our international flight, but last night my sister texted to encourage me to go ahead and book the Bahamian leg of the trip, as these small planes fill up quickly.  I got my credit card handy (no American Express– dang, there goes a thousand dollars in potential points!)  However, when I entered in the ages of all our passengers, Annabelle was not given the option of buying a seat.  The website simply stated that no seats are allocated for infant passengers.  WHOA. I feel much safer in the big commercial jet from Houston, and she has a seat on that trip.  But the little puddle-jumper crossing ocean waters to a remote island doesn’t think she warrants a safe place to be strapped in?  Not cool.  I cancelled my booking so I could call the airline in the morning.

Lively, loud island music blared in my ear as I waited to speak to the airline representative.  I suppose it is a nice departure from the usual elevator music that I have become so accustomed to in my MANY calls to insurance, doctors offices, the healthcare marketplace, etc.  Fortunately, the wait was brief.

“Hi, I was trying to book an upcoming flight from Nassau to Cat Island with my one year old daughter, but the website wouldn’t let me buy her own seat.”

“Oh no, infants are not charged to fly.”

“Right, but I WANT to pay so she can have her own seat.”

“Oh but she can sit in your lap for free.”

“I’m not comfortable with that at all.”

“No?”  Pause.  “You’re not?”  The confusion was obvious in her voice.  Apparently no one has ever expressed this concern before.  “Um, do you mind holding for a minute while I speak to a supervisor?”  Apparently permission is needed for me to pay for a child that would otherwise be riding free.  After a few minutes, “Ok, you can go ahead and buy her a ticket.  Just check the box that  says she is over two years old.”

“And the computer will let me do that if her birthday doesn’t match?”  Silence.  “Ok, well I’ll give it a try.  Thanks for your help.”

So, I’m about to attempt to purchase a ticket for my “two year old” daughter and hope that we don’t have any problems when we show up in a foreign country with a passport that very obviously states a different age.

This adventure is definitely TO BE CONTINUED…